"Just play with your dolls, Regina."
"I'm busy, Regina."
"You'll understand when you're older, Regina."
That's all Regina hears all day. Some form of no, without the word actually escaping her mother's lips. Mother is too busy to play with her, too busy for any fun. Daddy never has any time either. It leaves Regina alone with the only company of her doll, Isabelle.
One sunny afternoon, she sits in the garden with Isabelle, eating scones and drinking tea that the maid has provided. She doesn't play with her either.
Regina looks beyond the grounds and sees the forest. She's not supposed to leave the garden by herself, but her nanny is sick. The maid is busy with cleaning. A little adventure that her parents don't know about won't kill them.
Clutching Isabelle to her chest, Regina heads off to the woods, making sure to hold up her pale pink dress so mud doesn't track on it. She listens to the birds that sing and watches the bugs crawl through the dirt. It's not often she gets to leave the manor grounds, never alone. The trees tower above her with the leaves rustling in the wind.
As she's heading closer to the center of the woods, she comes across a bundle of blue flowers. She moves to get a better look and remembers her tutor telling her about them. Forget me nots. She bends down to grab a handful, but loses her footing and tumbles straight into the bush. Pain erupts over her face and she lets out a whimper, holding Isabelle closer to her chest.
"Need some help?"
Regina looks up, blinking a few times to adjust her vision. Her face is still sore as she takes in a boy around her age, with dark blonde hair and big blue eyes. He's dressed in a brown tunic and matching pants, a satchel of arrows on his back. His arm extends towards her, a smirk on his face exposing two dimples.
Regina takes his hand and lets him help her up. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. Your face gonna make it?"
Regina touches her cheek and feels a few scratches. Tears well up in her eyes but she doesn't want to seem like a baby. "I'll be fine."
"At least your dolly made it."
Regina looks down at Isabelle. Despite her mussed curls and torn dress, she's no worse for wear. She holds her closer. "Don't make fun of her."
The boy chuckles. "Why would I, your majesty."
"Don't call me that, arrow boy."
"Ohhh, Princess has jokes."
Regina smiles proudly. "I do." She holds out one hand. "Regina."
The boy grins. "Robin." He shakes it.
Regina doesn't see kids her age often. If she does, it's at parties where they expected to be seen and not heard. Ignoring the searing pain on her face, she slaps his shoulder.
"Tag!" She shouts. "You're it."
Robin raises an eyebrow, staring at her like she just declared war. Regina's brows furrow.
"It's a game," she says, dumbly. "It's fun."
"I've never played."
Regina frowns. "You don't play games?"
"I'm supposed to be an archer."
"You're a kid. Catch me. You're it."
And so, she runs past him. At first, he doesn't follow but then she can hear him running behind her. They chase each other, smacking one another on the shoulder and hiding behind trees, letting out giggles.
For once, Regina has a friend.
When it's Robin's turn to be "it" again, Regina runs further down the woods, Isabelle tucked tightly under her arm. She suddenly hears his feet stop and goes to ask him if he's chicken, when she hears someone's throat clear.
Looking up, Regina finds a tall man with dark blonde hair and piercing brown eyes. He's dressed in a similar outfit to Robin, with sharper arrows on his back. Regina stumbles back a bit, Robin grabbing hold of her arm.
"Robin," the man said, a sick smile encroaching on his lips. "What a good boy. You found the princess."
Regina looks up at Robin. "Found me?" She whispers.
"Father," Robin's voice is small, weak. "I wasn't trying to. She was just playing."
"Playing," the man scoffs. "We don't have time for you to play, Robin."
"Richard! Get away from my daughter!"
The group turns to find Cora and Henry heading towards them. Cora's hand has a fireball ready to throw and Regina shrinks more into Robin. She doesn't like when Mother uses her magic.
Richard laughs. "Lost your flock, Cora?"
"Regina, here, now," Cora demands.
Regina bites her lip, eyes on the ground. She reluctantly inches away from Robin and walks next to her father. He wraps a protective arm around her, kissing the top of her head.
"Leave the kids out of this," Henry says.
"They found each other," Richard sneers. "Not my fault."
"Let's just leave before anyone gets hurt."
"Looks like your little girl already did."
Cora and Henry look to Regina, taking in her face. Henry grasps her cheek and Regina blushes, wiggling in his grip.
"I'm fine," she whines.
"You've got scratches all over your face," Cora replies. "You look like you've been bleeding." She directs her fireball to Robin.
"No!" Regina cries. "I'm fine! It's not Robin's fault. I fell and he helped me up."
Cora looks unsure and Robin sends her a grateful smile. Regina gives him a small grin in return.
"Let's just leave this be. The kids are on the middle of the boundary," Henry says. "No harm done. Richard, you take Robin back to Sherwood. We'll take Regina home."
Richard looks conflicted but eventually grabs hold of his son's shoulder, dragging him away. Robin fights to keep up, a defeated look on his face. Cora's fireball fizzles out and she leads the group back to the manor, an air of silence over them. Henry keeps an arm squeezed over Regina. She cranes her neck over her shoulder to try to get one last look at her only friend.
Back home, Regina's cuts are cleaned with medicine that stings her face. The nurse doesn't stop when she whines, but Henry takes hold of her hand, staying by her side. Cora disappeared as soon as they stepped inside.
Her handmaiden helps her dress for bed and Henry tucks her in, Isabelle sitting on the nightstand beside her.
"Daddy," Regina says, softly. "Why did Mother get so mad at Robin's father?"
Henry sighs, carding his fingers through her hair. "Mija, Richard and Robin are from Sherwood Forest. That land rivals our own. They steal from our kingdom. Richard once broke into our home, stole your mother's favorite necklace and sold it."
"But why do they steal? Maybe they need our help…"
"That's enough," Regina's head snaps up and finds Cora in the doorway. "You are never to go to Sherwood again, do you understand me?"
"They are dirty thieves that are not welcome in this kingdom."
"Robin is my friend," Regina whispers.
"You'll make other friends, proper friends. Promise me, Regina, promise me that you will not go back towards those woods again."
Regina gnaws on her lip. Robin was her first friend, the first person to ever play with her outside her doll. But she also knows that her mother is powerful. She can make her life difficult and Regina doesn't want that.
"Yes, Mother," Regina promises.
"Good girl," Cora praises with all the warmth of an ice cube. "Now get some rest. You've had an awfully long day."
Henry gives her a kiss goodnight and blows out her candle. Cora simply leaves the doorway. No one seems to remember that Regina hasn't eaten that day.
8 years later…
Regina feels free on her horse these days. Rocinante was a gift for her 18th birthday and he allows her to travel outside of the manor walls. She's had lessons for years on her parents' horses, but for once she is trusted with one of her own. Rocinante is more than just a birthday present.
He represents her freedom.
She guides him outside the confines of the manor and through the rich, luscious green grass. As they trot, she sees the woods that have been forbidden to her since she was 10 years old. She's not a child anymore.
"That way, Rocinante," she instructs, tugging his reigns to the left. The horse obeys and they head towards the woods.
The scent of pine and dirt waiver into her nostrils, Regina grinning. She makes it to a brook, getting the horse to stop. She dismounts and bends down, getting a drink alongside side him. Her braid dips down into the water with her, but she doesn't care. She'll clean up before Mother notices.
She turns at the familiar, albeit deeper voice. She regards the figure, taller, darker hair and with a few worry lines imprinted in his forehead. It takes her a few moments until she finally recognizes him.
Her first friend. To this day, her only real friend. She's gone to cotillion classes, had her coming out ball. But she's never had a day of fun like that one in the woods. The only lasting sign of it is the scar on her lip, from the bushes he saved her from.
Regina stayed true to her word and stayed out of the woods as a child, but the woods didn't leave her mind.
"You look great," she says. He's still in a tunic and matching green pants. A fresh set of arrows are settled on his back.
"So do you" he replies, smiling. "I came back to the boundary after that day but you never showed."
Regina frowns. "Mother put guards on me, unfortunately. I couldn't leave the grounds without someone on my side."
"You are a Princess, after all." He smirks, showing off his dimples.
Regina rolls her eyes. "I'll never be Queen."
"My dad is the youngest of seven brothers. My cousin Mateo is the next in line. Do you know how many people would have to die before I'd be of any importance?"
"Well that's morbid." Robin leans against a tree. "Does that bother you? That you'll never be Queen?"
"No. I'd rather live a regular life. Just me and Rocinante." She pets her horse. "Everything else is what my mother wants."
"You don't have to do what she wants."
"Then you haven't met Cora."
"I remember she was like my own dad and I escaped him."
Regina cocks an eyebrow. "You did?"
Robin nods. "I ran away a couple of years ago. I started my own group," he grins proudly. "The Merry Men."
Regina smiles. "That's brave."
She wishes she could do something that brave.
Robin regards her. "Wanna do something fun?"
"Ever shoot an arrow?"
Regina pauses, staring at the sharp weapons on his back. "They look dangerous."
"Only if you aim them at someone. C'mon."
Regina is quiet for a moment before accepting his outstretched hand. Leaving Rocinante behind for a bit, Robin removes his satchel and dismounts his bow. He sets the heavy instrument in Regina's arms and shows her how to hold it. He then helps her load an arrow into it. He gets behind her, adjusting her stance and arms. Regina feels the tips of her ears grow hot as she feels the desire to melt into his strong grip.
"So you're gonna pull back," his breath hits her ear. "And then aim for the center."
Regina lets him pull her arm back and then releases the arrow. She watches as it goes whizzing in the air and hits the center of the tree. She grins, a buzz of adrenaline coming over her.
"Can I do it again? By myself this time?"
Robin nods, a smile on his own face. "Of course."
They spend the afternoon shooting arrows, most of the ones Regina shooting hitting bushes instead of a tree. Robin fixes her stance and they try again and again. He's patient and gentle. She doesn't want it to end, but knows tea time is coming. Mother will notice she's gone.
But they make a promise to meet up the next day and they do.
And then the next and the next. Soon, it's a regular part of their day. Robin teaching her how to shoot an arrow, Regina telling him what it's like to live in the manor. He lets her in on tales of his group and how while they steal like his father, they give all of it back to the poor. Regina is captivated, listening to every story on the edge of her seat.
After 2 weeks, she kisses him by the brook where they had their second meeting. Two days later, he brings her a few Forget Me Nots and gives her another.
They're "courting" as Cora would call it, not that she could ever tell her mother.
Six months of daily archer practices, picnics and make out sessions in the woods and Regina knows she cannot stay away. Robin must know it too, because after a heist he tells her that he kept one thing for himself. He never does that, he'd kick a man out of the group for it.
But when she sees a simple gold band with a tiny amethyst stone, she knows what it's for.
"Yes," she says simply as soon as he asks her the four word question.
But they both know it's not easy. Cora will never allow it. There's been rumors of her setting Regina up with a much older king in a nearby land. He has a daughter in need of a mother.
If Regina has children, it will not be a girl barely 8 years younger than her.
So, she turns to her father. She begs, she pleads. He tells her that he can't talk sense into Cora and Regina nearly breaks into tears.
Until he sets something else up all together.
There will be a fire while Cora and Henry are at a ball in Midas' kingdom. Regina will stay behind with a "stomach ache". Their staff will have gone to the servant's home for the night, leaving the only victim, Regina.
No one knowing except Henry that she escaped into the night with the love of her life.
12 years later…
Regina isn't a princess anymore, but she is a leader. Alongside Robin, they run the Merry Men, which now takes more than just men these days. They steal, they help others. They drink, they protect one another.
They've left the forest, it was too dangerous with Cora so close by. They start over in a new kingdom called Arendelle. It's safer, or at least they consider it to be.
2 years after they said "I do", Regina welcomed their first son. It's Robin's idea to name him Henry, after the reason why they were able to run away together.
5 years into their life together, Regina gave birth to their second son. This one she named Roland, which means fame of the land. While the boys are not traditional royalty, they are treated as such for being born to the leaders of the group.
For 12 years, they lived in harmony. They stole, they raised their boys, they were happy.
And then word of a curse hit the kingdom.
The infamous wizard Rumpelstiltskin has been working with a wicked witch named Zelena. If they succeed, everyone will be taken to a new land, forgetting all about one another. Their only hope is Princess Snow White's unborn child and Regina isn't sure how much hope she can put into a fetus.
"It's going to be okay," Robin assures her one night. The boys sleep on their cots, curled up tight. Regina runs her fingers through their hair.
"How?" She questions, softly. "This curse could tear us apart. It could make us forget our boys. Each other."
"I'm pregnant, Robin."
A time of joy and happiness, stolen by this upcoming curse. Robin knows he needs to do something, anything to guarantee his children will not be taken from their mother. He has hope that the curse can be prevented, Snow White and he Prince promise it will. But just in case, Robin goes on a mission.
He trades one of the few things he has left of his mother. A beautiful gold locket for an ivory elephant figurine. According to the witch that gave it to him, it wouldn't preserve Regina's memories of their children, but it'd keep them together nonetheless. The boys would have their mother, regardless of what happened to their father.
The elephant brings Regina some form of comfort. She presses a kiss to his lips when it's presented to him and he holds her close, grazing her soft curls.
"I don't want to lose you either," she whispers.
"Regina, somehow our paths always reconnect. If this curse cannot he stopped…we'll find a way back to one another."
Two months later, the family huddles in their cottage. Henry is between his parents, clutching their hands. Roland is cuddled on his mom's lap, his arms tightly around her. A storm brews outside, but the clouds are green rather than blue.
"It's going to be okay," Regina assures her kids.
And she hopes it's not a lie.
With the elephant in one hand and Henry's grip in the other, she turns to Robin. They stare at one another, no words needing to be said. His lips graze hers, just as the green clouds break through the windows and take over the family of four.